Thursday, 22 May 2014

A portrait of the artist as a young man

You know how sometimes you can see a photograph, and there's just something about it that affects you in a far bigger way than you expect? It's not always possible to explain what the effect is or why it's got to you, why it's got in there, it just has. There's one that's doing it for me now and it's this:


I don't know when this photo of the artist Amedeo Modigliani was actually taken but he died in January 1920 so that helps to put it in a time-frame. Perhaps what's getting to me about it is that it just looks so contemporary... somehow it's not like most other images you see from the early 1900s. His relaxed pose, his clothing and the background just make me feel as if I've stepped into his studio and seen him sitting there like that in the last few minutes. I'm touched by Modigliani's personal story anyway, his much talked about use of drugs and alcohol being believed to have been exacerbated by the need to suppress and disguise the symptoms of the TB that eventually killed him at the age of 35. I'm moved by the tale of his beautiful, besotted young wife, Jeanne H├ębuterne, who threw herself out of a fifth-floor window soon after his death, killing herself and their baby to whom she was shortly due to give birth. And of course I love much of his work, and remember how struck I was on first seeing one particular painting on display at one of my favourite museums, the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge. Full of scratchy marks and loose brush strokes, the portrait of a woman shows her with blacked out eyes, presumably influenced by the African masks he admired, but somewhat unnerving.

Up until seeing this photo of the man, the name Modigliani only conjured up boldly-coloured linear paintings of reclining nudes in my mind, but now I'm just seeing him. The jacket, the boots, the paper on the floor... and a face, a warm face, that I wish I could have known.

14 comments:

  1. Is that the Redhead you're describing...that is a fantastic painting. He really seemed to be use the masks and statues as a source of inspiration and appreciate them as a genuine aesthetic outlook...rather than tacking them on in a cheap trick..like some other better known Modernists. I love those portraits and nudes.

    He's engaging with the camera...it's intimate.

    Have you ever seen the photos of Lewis Powell in 1865? The Alabamian was one of the people involved in the execution of Lincoln...it was wider plan that also included the killing of William Seward the Secretary of State. Powell was charged with executing Seward...he marked him up real bad but failed to kill him.

    He was arrested and in the process a photographer was brought in to document the people involved. At first Powell refused to cooperate banging his head against the wall...eventually he was "persuaded" that he didn't have a choice in the matter so, basically, he clowns it. He's aloof he stares off into space...or stares right through the lens. He basically mocks the camera and in the process these very Modern photographs are created. It's unsettling really.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes indeed, the redhead 'Portrait of a young woman seated' (1915). It's amazing to see it 'in the flesh'.

      Wow! I just looked up the Lewis Powell photos (thank you! ) and they've had the same effect. Amazing, I love them. His demeanour, the hair and clothes, makes them look so contemporary. I think what I love about these kind of images is that it just makes the subjects feel so much more real and relatable, obviously we know people have been the same throughout history but I sort of subconsciously box them off into specific eras which then colours my view. Photos like these break up those imagined historical boundaries somehow, if that makes sense. Thanks for the background to Lewis Powell too.

      Delete
    2. Just taken a long look at the Lewis Powell photographs. Quite incredible. It's true that there is something timeless in his appearance but there is something about his defiance that seems to be out-of-time. Thanks for pointing these out.

      Delete
  2. Always been a big fan of Modigliani but didn't recognise him immediately in the photo; in fact, you're right, it looks utterly of today and I thought it might have been a mate of yours. Very cool chap. Great paintings, of course.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He does remind me a bit of a mate of mine there as it happens! Take a look at the Lewis Powell photos of 1865 that Erik talks about above too (if you haven't already) - you'll be stunned.

      Delete
  3. Great post and a really good photo. I like Modigliani too. Recently read about Egon Schiele and his life (Yewtree would have had him today). His Girl Seated with Bent Knee is a favourite of mine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Swiss Adam. I'm a big fan of Schiele too and have a print of his on the wall behind me as I type this! - but, as you say, he (and Klimt) would no doubt be persona non grata today. I know the picture you mean and it's great - there's also a sketched self-portrait (just his face) which I can't get enough of, really fresh and spontaneous, just looks as if it could have been scribbled down on a piece of paper yesterday.

      Delete
  4. This and the Lewis Powell photos are engaging for their lack of formality, which is what would otherwise pin them to a specific moment in time. You know my love of interesting old photos, so thank you (& Erik) for bringing these to my attention. The art is terrific too of course.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's it, yes... and also why so many of the photos you use on your UOTS header are so engaging too. The subjects look so 'normal' (you know what I mean!)

      I'm hooked on the Lewis Powell photos I must say, thanks to Erik.

      Delete
  5. Uh! Those Lewis Powell photos have just blown my mind.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have just looked up some of his paintings....they are just so unique and fabulous

    ReplyDelete

Please come in, the door is open

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...